The Court of Justice held in Opinion 2/13, 'the EU is, under international law precluded by its very nature from being considered a State'. And yet, while the European Union (EU) is indeed not a state, it is a unique international actor with extensive legal powers on the international stage. The EU has treaty making powers, can assume international legal responsibility, and can give effect to international commitments in its own legal order. At the same time, the exercise of these powers raises intricate legal issues over the respective roles of the institutions of the EU in negotiating and concluding international agreements and the representation of the EU, the relationship between the Member States and the EU at the international stage, and the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in giving effect to international commitments.
This module is about these constitutional aspects of EU international relations law. While the focus is on constitutional law, it will inevitably cover substantive areas of law, such as trade, environmental protection, and sanctions. The EU is visible in many areas of international relations and international law. Most prominently it conducts a common commercial policy by negotiating trade agreements and giving effect to the EU's trade defence instruments. The EU is also party to a host of international environmental and development agreements and is increasingly active in more traditional forms of foreign policy relating to collective security issues. The module will also cover important EU legal aspects of Brexit. The EU is currently negotiating an agreement with the United Kingdom, following the UK’s notification under Article 50 TEU.
The module will provide students with an insight into the three core areas of EU international relations law. Firstly, it will elaborate on the internal constitutional aspects of the EU’s external actions, discussing the powers of the respective institutions as well as the division of powers between the EU and its Member States. It will also discuss membership of international organizations and the unique EU legal construct of 'mixed’ agreements. Secondly, it will look into the role of the European Court of Justice in EU international relations law. It will discuss the Court’s powers and how it gives effect to international law, as well as its relationship with other international courts and tribunals. Finally, the module will discuss selected substantive aspects of EU international relations law, including Brexit.
Total contact hours: 21
Private study hours: 179
Total study hours: 200
Brussels: compulsory to the LLM and MA in [Primary Specialisation] with [Secondary Area of Specialisation]
Method of assessment
Main assessment methods
Essay of no more than 5000 words (80%)
Oral presentation (20%)
Reassessment Instrument: 100% coursework
• P. Craig and G. De Burca, EU law: text, cases, and materials 6th ed. (Oxford University Press, 2015)
• P. Eeckhout, External Relations of the European Union – Legal and Constitutional Foundations (Oxford University Press, 2011)
• N.G. Foster, Blackstone's EU Treaties & Legislation (latest edition) (Oxford University Press)
• C. Hill and M. Smith (eds.) International Relations and the EU, 2nd ed. (OUP 2011)
• P. Koutrakos, EU International Relations Law 2nd ed. (Hart, 2015)
• K. Smith, EU Foreign Policy in a Changing World, 3rd ed. (Polity 2014)
• B. Van Vooren and R. Wessel, EU External Relations Law – Cases and Materials (CUP, 2014)
See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)
The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1. Demonstrate sophisticated knowledge and understanding of the key concepts, principles, and rules relating to the institutional and legal
framework of European Union external action, and how these have evolved.
2. Demonstrate sophisticated knowledge and understanding of the different policy models, international agreements and legal instruments
employed in relations with countries or groups of countries, and critically assess how these reflect the different political perspectives
underlying the EU's Common Commercial Policy, the Common Foreign and Security Policy and development policy.
3. Demonstrate critical knowledge and understanding of the rules underpinning the membership of the EU in international organizations and
especially the complexity of the membership of the EU in the World Trade Organisation.
4. Access and deploy the main sources relating to the law governing the EU's external relations, including relevant treaty sources, other
foreign policy instruments and case-law, as well as literature in the field, for the purpose of module assessments.
5. Critically understand and evaluate the theoretical perspectives and academic debates which underlie EU international relations law.
6. Research, in detail, and critically analyse, how the EU external relations law influences the foreign policy of the EU Member States as well
as how the EU's international agreements and policy instruments impact on the domestic legislation as well as treaty negotiations of third
The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1. Find relevant material from various sources including literature, international treaties, protocols, declarations, court judgments, both in hard
copy, and through electronic sources and specialist databases.
2. Assimilate and analyse complex material in the context of its conceptual and theoretical underpinnings, and present relevant knowledge
and understanding in the form of an original, reasoned and supported argument.
3. Express themselves to a high standard in a coherent written form, with appropriate use of citation.
4. Communicate orally by virtue of experience in delivering an oral presentation in front of a class, and participation in group seminar
5. Tackle practical problems.
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- ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
- The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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